Tag Archives: Crater

So, What Should I Call It?

I am finally in the home stretch of finishing the revisions of my Crater manuscript.  For a number of reasons the first chapter proved to be the most difficult to revise, but I finally have it where I am comfortable.  It should take me no more than 2 to 3 more weeks before I send the full manuscript back to the publisher.  One of the things that I am having quite a time with, however, is the title.  Since I am stumped I thought it might be helpful to ask my loyal readers for some assistance.  So, here is the deal.  If I use your title or a substantial portion of it you will receive a free copy of the book – assuming it is published at all. :D  Long time readers will be familiar with the subject of the book, but just in case here is the original proposal/outline.  It should give you some idea of what the book is about.  I have to say that it was painful to look at the time line that I sketched out in the proposal.  Oh well.

Thanks in advance for your help.

Home From Petersburg

I want to thank Mark Snell and Denise Messinger of the George Tyler Moore Center for the Study of the Civil War and Will Greene and the rest of the staff at Pamplin Park for putting on a wonderful conference on the Petersburg Campaign.  It was nice to see so many familiar faces and I especially enjoyed making new friends.  It was indeed a busy three days and we spent a great deal of time in the sweltering heat, but it was well worth it.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and listening to fellow speakers, Chris Stowe and Earl Hess.  It was truly an honor to be on the same line up with Chris and Earl.  I was quite pleased with the response to my paper, which analyzed the Confederate response to the presence of U.S.C.T.’s at the Crater.  Speaking of that subject, I just reviewed the page proofs for the essay which will appear in the October issue of Civil War Times.  Dana Shoaf and company did a fabulous job of preparing the essay for publication and I look forward to hearing what people think.

In addition to the presentations we toured extensively around Petersburg.  For me it was an opportunity to familiarize myself with a campaign that I’ve had a great deal of difficulty understanding.  I think it’s safe to say that no one knows more about the city of Petersburg and the campaign than Will Greene.  He took us to City Point, the Crater, Weldon Railroad, Hatcher’s Run, White Oak Road, Five Forks, as well as the breakout battlefield at Pamplin Park.  There is something exciting about watching someone like Will, with such extensive knowledge, develop a narrative that makes sense of very complicated troop movements and then places those movements within a broader context for a public audience.  Not only is Will’s knowledge both broad and deep, he outlasted all of us by the end of what was an incredibly hot Saturday.

I encourage all of you to visit Pamplin Park if you happen to find yourself in the area.  The exhibits are well done and the grounds include some of the best preserved earthworks that you will see in the area.  I also highly recommend their film, “War So Terrible.” I have some things that I want to say about this film, so I am going to wait until later this week.  Finally, those of you looking for a summer Civil War seminar should seriously consider joining Mark Snell and the rest of the gang.  It’s a wonderful group of people, who enjoy one another’s company and who are well read in the history of the Civil War.  It looks like next year the conference will move to West Virginia to focus on the earliest battles while in 2012 the seminar will head southeast once again to focus on the Peninsula Campaign.  Check out the center’s website and get yourself on their mailing list.  You won’t be disappointed.

OK…back to work.

[Photo of me at the Crater]

Off to Petersburg

I just put the finishing touches on my paper and accompanying visual presentation for the George Tyler Moore CenterPamplin Park Conference that begins tomorrow afternoon.  Back in 2007 I took part in this conference, but this is the first year that Mark Snell and the rest of the gang at Shepherd University have decided to take the conference on the road.  Teaming up with Will Greene and Pamplin Park was a smart move given that the conference has sold out.  We will spend three days exploring the battlefields around Petersburg and discussing the experiences of the men in the trenches.  Will Greene is the scholar-in-residence and will be be leading the tours.  Additional presentations will be made by Earl Hess, Christopher Stowe, Dennis Brandt, Walter Powell, and Mark Snell.

You may remember a series of posts I did last summer that explored the ways in which the Confederate response to the presence of USCTs at the Crater connected to the challenges of maintaining slavery during the antebellum period as well as reports of slave rebellions both in the South and Caribbean.  Since then I’ve developed these ideas for inclusion in the first chapter of my Crater manuscript as well as in an article that will appear in the October issue of Civil War Times.  I am going to present a version of that article on Friday.  I want the audience to think beyond the trenches as did the soldiers themselves.  It is important to remember that during the final year of the war the Army of Northern Virginia was defending a civilian population.  Many of the men in Mahone’s Virignia brigade were from Petersburg and the surrounding counties.  Aaron Sheehan-Dean makes a compelling argument in Why Confederates Fought: Family and Nation in Civil War Virginia (UNC Press, 2007) that during that final year soldiers and civilians grew increasingly alienated from one another.  He suggests that many of the men believed that civilians had failed to appreciate the sacrifices that Lee’s men were making on a daily basis outside of Petersburg.  I argue that the Crater reinforced their connection with the home front and served to remind civilians of just what was at stake in the event of a Confederate defeat.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to try out some of these ideas on Friday.

While I am looking forward to seeing a number of old friends, I am especially looking forward to meeting Earl Hess for the first time.  Back in 2004 I conducted some research on William Mahone for a seminar class at the University of Richmond.  It’s funny how word gets around, but somehow Chris Calkins, who was then the chief historian at Petersburg National Battlefield Park (PNB) found out about it and suggested to Prof. Hess that I might be able to help gather source material for his study of the Petersburg campaign.  I was more than happy to help out since I was planning on turning that essay into an M.A. Thesis on historical memory and the battle of the Crater.  Professor Hess had me working at the University of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society, Library of Virginia, Museum of the Confederacy, and PNB.  The source list was extensive and provided me with a great start on my own project.  It definitely saved me a great amount of time and ultimately went into what I consider to be a pretty good thesis.  It will be nice to be able to thank Prof. Hess in person.  By the way, Prof. Hess is slated to release his own study of the Crater in September. That makes four books on the Crater in the last few years, but why do I have a feeling that Hess’s book will be the best of the lot.

I hope to blog a bit from Petersburg, but from what I understand there is a happy hour scheduled for each night.

A View of the Crater in 1867

The first time I took my wife to visit the Crater she was less than impressed.  If I remember correctly she said something along the following lines: “This is it?  This is what you’ve been spending your time on?”  Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but not by much.  There are a number of points in the broader history of this site that I would of liked to have visited.  Of course, to see the actual battle would have been interesting, but I also find the 1903 and 1937 reenactments to be attractive as well.  Perhaps a round of golf in the 1920s would have been enjoyable.  The only other time that I find attractive is right after the war.  From all the reports I’ve read the battlefield was still an absolute mess, littered with weapons, bones, and other signs of the horrific fight.  I’ve collected a number of accounts from various sources that are included in my manuscript, but nothing comes close to the following description from The Southern Opinion on June 29, 1867:

The crater was between twenty and twenty-five feet deep before it was closed over the dead, but now the average depth of the cavern is not more than eight feet or ten feet, with walls of slippery clay, in which has lately been discovered some valuable properties, equal in every respect to meerschaum clay.  Tim Griffith, youngest son of the proprietor, has become a very artistick worker in the material, and has taken many impressions of relicks, such as United States belt plates, the eagle, and the corps mark of Burnside’s army corps, of which great numbers were to be found.  Colonel Moore, of one of the government departments, Washington, has examined the clay, and pronounced it unequaled for modeling purposes–the best in the world.  Some visitors affirm that the clay received its moulding and adhesive qualities from the blood of the slain buried there, which assertion seems to receive some support from the fact that veins of red permeate the compost.  One fact has been demonstrated, which is undeniable, that the soil possesses great preserving qualities.  On the 30th of July, 1866, three hundred bodies were taken out of the crater, and the corpses were as perfect in flesh as the day they were consigned to the pit, two years before.  They were fresh and gory, the blood oozing from their wounds, and saturating still perfect clothing.

I have numerous accounts of bodies being re-interred into the 1930s, but nothing comes close to the descriptive quality here.  The Griffith family, which owned the land on which the battle was fought, took full advantage of public interest in the site following the war.  They kept a register book, which in 1866 alone includes the names of 8,000 visitors, which suggests that the number was even higher – a testament to its early popularity as a tourist site..  A visit to the Crater today really is a walk in the park.

Publications in the Pipeline

I hope that all of you have had a chance to read my article on Confederate military executions in the current issue of Civil War Times.  It should be on the newsstands for a few more weeks, but you can also read it online.  I’ve been quite pleased with the response thus far.  I am also pleased to report that my essay on understanding the battle of the Crater as a slave rebellion will be published in a future issue of the magazine.  Working with Dana Shoaf and the rest of the staff was an absolute pleasure and I look forward to doing it again.  You may remember that this essay started as a blog post in June 2009, which received quite a bit of attention.  Civil War Times is a perfect place for this particular piece.  It’s an aspect of the battle that receives very little attention and I love the fact that it will be read by a popular audience.  I am really excited about this one.  Writing this essay has allowed me to think much more deeply about a number of issues related to the battle itself as well as the postwar process of remembrance and commemoration.  The essay now serves as the core of the first chapter of my Crater manuscript.

This year is proving to be very good for me in the area of publications.  I’ve got a few other projects that should be out this year in addition to the two Civil War Times articles.  The final volume of the Virginia at War series edited by William C. Davis and James I. Robertson (University of Kentucky Press) should be right around the corner.  Back in 2008 I wrote a chapter on the demobilization of the Army of Northern Virginia.  In August my talk from the 2008 meeting of the Society for Civil War Historians, which explored how I use Ken Burns in my classroom will be published in the journal, The History Teacher.  Finally, I am hoping to hear more about the status of Gary Gallagher’s final volume in the Military Campaigns of the Civil War series at UNC Press.  It looks like this final volume will cover the Petersburg Campaign through Appomattox and may end up being quite a large book.  Last I heard my essay on how Confederate soldiers remembered the battle of the Crater was to be included, but these things can change given the amount of time that has lapsed.